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Clean Poetry

John Bayley, 18 August 1983

Collected Poems 1970-1983 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 172 pp., £5.95, May 1983, 0 85635 462 7
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... said’. Like time, it collaborates only with silence, always invoked in Larkin’s poetic medium. Donald Davie has an expressive metaphor for the other kind of poetry, in a poem aptly entitled ‘Ars Poetica’: Walk quietly around in A space cleared for the purpose. Most poems, or the best, Describe their own birth, and this Is what they are – a space ...

Towards the Transhuman

James Atlas, 2 February 1984

The Oxford Companion to American Literature 
by James Hart.
Oxford, 896 pp., £27.50, November 1983, 0 19 503074 5
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The Modern American Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Oxford, 209 pp., £9.95, April 1983, 0 19 212591 5
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The Literature of the United States 
by Marshall Walker.
Macmillan, 236 pp., £14, November 1983, 0 333 32298 3
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American Fictions 1940-1980: A Comprehensive History and Critical Valuation 
by Frederick Karl.
Harper and Row, 637 pp., £31.50, February 1984, 0 06 014939 6
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Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 919 pp., £21, January 1984, 0 233 97610 8
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... to turn out the daunting titles advertised in literary magazines: Milton and the Postmodern, Allen Tate and the Augustinian Imagination, Myths and Texts: Strategies of Incorporation and Displacement. The one question rarely addressed is: who reads these books and what purpose do they serve? I can imagine looking up a name in James Hart’s fifth edition ...

Ten Poets

Denis Donoghue, 7 November 1985

Selected Poems 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 124 pp., £2.95, April 1985, 9780856355950
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Collected Poems: 1947-1980 
by Allen Ginsberg.
Viking, 837 pp., £16.95, April 1985, 0 670 80683 8
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Instant Chronicles: A Life 
by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 58 pp., £4.50, April 1985, 9780019211970
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Selected Poems 
by Edwin Morgan.
Carcanet, 139 pp., £2.95, April 1985, 0 85635 596 8
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Selected Poems 
by Jeffrey Wainwright.
Carcanet, 79 pp., £2.95, April 1985, 0 85635 598 4
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Selected Poems 
by Gillian Clarke.
Carcanet, 112 pp., £2.95, April 1985, 0 85635 594 1
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The Price of Stone 
by Richard Murphy.
Faber, 92 pp., £4, May 1985, 0 571 13568 4
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Selected Poems 
by Iain Crichton Smith.
Carcanet, 121 pp., £2.95, April 1985, 0 85635 597 6
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Selected Poems 
by Sylvia Townsend Warner.
Carcanet, 95 pp., £2.95, April 1985, 0 85635 585 2
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From the Irish 
by James Simmons.
Blackstaff, 78 pp., £3.95, May 1985, 0 85640 331 8
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... One of Donald Davie’s early poems, and one of his strongest, is ‘Pushkin: A Didactic Poem’, from Brides of Reason (1955). As in Davie’s ‘Dream Forest’, Pushkin is taken as a model, a poet Who recognised no checks Yet brooked them all – a mind Molten and thereby fluent, Unforced, easily strict. In this didactic poem the speaker is professional, drawing his comparisons with rehearsed casualness: In the matter of Pushkin, Emily Brontë Is the best analogy in some ways Among our poets ...

Southern Discomfort

Bertram Wyatt-Brown, 8 June 1995

The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism 
by Eugene Genovese.
Harvard, 138 pp., £17.95, October 1994, 0 674 82527 6
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... in their Thirties successors, the Nashville Agrarians – Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate and Donald Davidson, to name the most prominent. Turning to more recent times, Genovese relies on the anti-modernist commentaries of Richard Weaver, a Southern sociologist in Chicago, and Melvin Bradford, a literary ...

Ancient Orthodoxies

C.K. Stead, 23 May 1991

Antidotes 
by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 64 pp., £6.95, March 1991, 0 85635 908 4
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Dog Fox Field 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 103 pp., £6.95, February 1991, 0 85635 950 5
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True Colours 
by Neil Powell.
Carcanet, 102 pp., £6.95, March 1991, 0 85635 910 6
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Eating strawberries in the Necropolis 
by Michael Hulse.
Harvill, 63 pp., £5.95, March 1991, 0 00 272076 0
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... When Les Murray writes, ‘the white-faced heron hides in the drain with her spear,’ or when Allen Curnow writes, ‘the small wind instruments in the herons’ throats / play an incorrigible music,’ there is in each case the shock of something quite particular, and of language forced to find a way of matching it. Someone is forgetting himself and ...

Damsons and Custard

Paul Laity: Documentary cinema’s unsung poet, 3 March 2005

Humphrey Jennings 
by Kevin Jackson.
Picador, 448 pp., £30, October 2004, 0 330 35438 8
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... out: ‘Look at me! … Don’t you think I’m beautiful?’ In fact, she thought he looked like Donald Duck, and insisted he put his clothes on and take her to meet André Breton. ‘There has only been one really good edition of anything that Shakespeare wrote,’ he told the writer Ruthven Todd, ‘and that is an edition of Venus and Adonis that I did ...

Charmed Quarantine

James Wood, 21 March 1996

Soul Says: On Recent Poetry 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 266 pp., £15.95, June 1995, 0 674 82146 7
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The Breaking of Style: Hopkins, Heaney, Graham 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 100 pp., £18.95, January 1996, 0 674 08121 8
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The Given and the Made: Strategies of Poetic Redefinition 
by Helen Vendler.
Faber, 137 pp., £7.99, April 1995, 0 571 17078 1
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... of lyric poetry even when some of them, as in the case of Charles Simic’s jagged narratives or Donald Davie’s complaints, refuse the lyric. In her Introduction to Soul Says, she celebrates the lyric as a kind of charmed quarantine. It is a place where ‘the details associated with a socially specified self’ are stripped away. The ‘all-purpose ...

It makes yer head go

David Craig: James Kelman and Gordon Legge, 18 February 1999

The Good Times 
by James Kelman.
Secker, 246 pp., £14.99, July 1998, 0 436 41215 2
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Near Neighbours 
by Gordon Legge.
Cape, 218 pp., £9.99, June 1998, 0 224 05120 2
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... on green paper, if I remember, and featured strip cartoons of Laurel and Hardy, Flanagan and Allen, Arthur Askey, and Old Mother Riley the female impersonator.) I support this project, and I want it to be carried out skilfully, not clumsily. (‘Comic Cuts’ is an amazingly inventive account of a marathon drunken conversation, almost wholly in direct ...

Lords loses out

R.W. Johnson: Basil D’Oliveira and racism in sport, 16 December 2004

Basil D’Oliveira: Cricket and Conspiracy: The Untold Story 
by Peter Oborne.
Little, Brown, 274 pp., £16.99, June 2004, 0 316 72572 2
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Reflections on a Life in Sport 
by Sam Ramsamy and Edward Griffiths.
Greenhouse, 168 pp., £7.99, July 2004, 0 620 32251 9
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... South Africa. In those still white-dominated days, men like Swanton, the MCC treasurer Gubby Allen, Griffith and the retiring MCC president, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, exercised an inordinate influence throughout the cricket world. The D’Oliveira affair marked a key defeat for this Lords-centred elite, which was on intimate terms with its counterparts in ...

Martian Arts

Jonathan Raban, 23 July 1987

Home and Away 
by Steve Ellis.
Bloodaxe, 62 pp., £4.50, February 1987, 9781852240271
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The Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper 
by Blake Morrison.
Chatto, 48 pp., £4.95, May 1987, 0 7011 3227 2
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The Frighteners 
by Sean O’Brien.
Bloodaxe, 64 pp., £4.50, February 1987, 9781852240134
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... half the 35 contributors, few of whom bother to make it clear whether they mean Robert Lowell, or Allen Ginsberg, or the Black Mountain imitators of William Carlos Williams. ‘The Liverpool Poets’ are regarded with a mixture of fear and derision. ‘The ranks of the illiterate raise puerile and rhythmless voices,’ wrote Roy Fuller. ‘Infantile ...

Wrong Again

Bruce Cumings: Korean War Games, 4 December 2003

... by the CIA and other agencies, a process known as ‘stovepiping’. This means that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz judge the veracity of reports from the field themselves (or with their staffers) without the information having first been ‘subjected to rigorous scrutiny’, and then rush the most damning reports into speeches, such as those ...

Samuel Johnson goes abroad

Claude Rawson, 29 August 1991

A Voyage to Abyssinia 
by Samuel Johnson, edited by Joel Gold.
Yale, 350 pp., £39.50, July 1985, 0 300 03003 7
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Rasselas, and Other Tales 
by Samuel Johnson, edited by Gwin Kolb.
Yale, 290 pp., £24.50, March 1991, 0 300 04451 8
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A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) 
by Samuel Johnson.
Longman, 1160 pp., £195, September 1990, 0 582 07380 4
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The Making of Johnson’s Dictionary, 1746-1773 
by Allen Reddick.
Cambridge, 249 pp., £30, October 1990, 0 521 36160 5
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Samuel Johnson’s Attitude to the Arts 
by Morris Brownell.
Oxford, 195 pp., £30, March 1989, 0 19 812956 4
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Johnson’s Shakespeare 
by G.F. Parker.
Oxford, 204 pp., £25, April 1989, 0 19 812974 2
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... is probably true even of Irene. In the fiction, the political interest is primarily concerned, as Donald Greene said in his book on Johnson’s politics, ‘with the problems of psychology and morality that underlie political attitudes rather than with political questions themselves’. When Nekayah says ‘all natural and almost all political evils, are ...

Even When It’s a Big Fat Lie

Alex Abramovich: ‘Country Music’, 8 October 2020

Country Music 
directed by Ken Burns.
PBS, eight episodes
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... after white supremacists had held a ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Donald Trump’s (then) chief of staff, John Kelly, went on Fox News and delivered a history lesson. ‘The lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War,’ he said. ‘Men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had ...

The Braver Thing

Christopher Ricks, 1 November 1984

T.S. Eliot 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 400 pp., £12.50, September 1984, 0 241 11349 0
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Recollections Mainly of Artists and Writers 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Chatto, 195 pp., £12.50, September 1984, 0 7011 2791 0
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... reactions in Eliot which are not patently any such thing. To say this, is to agree restively with Donald Davie, who has praised Ackroyd’s book for demonstrating Eliot’s essential commonplaceness. To Davie, though, this makes the book valuable as the exposure of something lamentable, whereas others of us may judge it to be – both in Eliot’s life and in ...

New Looks, New Newspapers

Peter Campbell, 2 June 1988

The Graphic Language of Neville Brody 
by Jon Wozencroft.
Thames and Hudson, 160 pp., £14.95, April 1988, 0 500 27496 7
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The Making of the ‘Independent’ 
by Michael Crozier.
Gordon Fraser, 128 pp., £8.95, May 1988, 0 86092 107 7
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... the hard thing to get people to part with, and buying what you do not read can be painful. Woody Allen has a funny piece about the guilt which grows to keep pace with a mounting pile of unread copies of the New York Review of Books. Brody’s attempt to make New Socialist palatable to the young, and the authoritative reassurance and ‘good easy ...

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